The best times to book flights

Discover the best time to book a bargain flight

Marcus Webb – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Marcus Webb | Independent Money Mentor

Editor of Delayed Gratification and independent journalist


Cheap flights are like the Loch Ness monster, inner peace or the one film the entire family can agree on watching together on Netflix – something people will spend aeons searching for. But when you’re travelling on a budget, putting in the time to find a bargain flight is time well spent. Here’s our guide to the best times to book flights.

Plan ahead

It will come as no surprise to learn that, in general, the earlier you book the better – but the scale of the swing can be staggering. According to flight comparison site Skyscanner.net the price of a flight booked in the week of departure is a staggering 163 percent more expensive than average, whereas if you’d booked 12 weeks earlier it would be 32 percent cheaper than normal. Flights can be available for booking up to 11 months in advance, but if you’re not that organised don’t panic: prices do fluctuate over the time they are on sale and most airlines or comparison sites have notification alerts that you can sign-up to, to see when the price is right.

Don’t expect anything at the airport...

Everyone’s had the pipe dream of turning up at an airport, passport in hand, strolling up to the counter, bagging themselves a bargain flight for the price of a flat white and being in Rio for sundowners. It’s not going to happen. “Most airlines would rather have empty seats, or let the friends and family of employees have them for cut-price rather than release last minute seats to the public at rock bottom prices,” one former air steward told me. “The price of tickets usually only goes up the closer you get to take-off.”

...unless it’s an upgrade

The exception to the ‘nothing at the airport’ rule is getting yourself a cheap route to the posh seats. “If you leave it until the day you depart there are often fantastic deals available to upgrade to a higher cabin after you check in and drop your bags off,” a Virgin Atlantic insider told us. Your best chance of bagging one of these is by flying at a time when most business travellers aren’t. So think flights departing on a Saturday evening or over Christmas or other holidays.

Mark your calendar

While “the earlier the better” is a good general rule of thumb, there are certain months of the year where flights to certain destinations fall considerably. January is sale time, but that’s not your only window of opportunity. For example, Skyscanner's data shows that if you book a return flight from London to New York in November, prices are up to 16 percent cheaper than average. Meanwhile, people booking from Glasgow to Barcelona can see flights fluctuate from 40 percent above average if they book in December (when prices are highest) to 16 percent below average in April (when they are at their lowest). The site has a handy tool which allows you to search for the best time to book tickets from the ten most popular cities in the UK.

Get geeky

The absolutely ideal time to book a flight is when a new route is announced. Airlines will be keen to fill those inaugural flights by offering special prices. Subscribing to airlines’ email newsletters and following their social channels will give you a good heads-up, but if you really want to get ahead of the curve then regularly check-in on routesonline.com. This site by the most dedicated of flight watchers will not only tell you about new routes, but also changes to the type of plane flying. So if your favourite holiday destination goes from a titchy 100-seater to a ginormous jumbo, the chances are that there’ll be some cheap seats to be had. Happy hunting.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.